It’s only been 98 hours since Duke, our super sweet, long-haired German Shepherd (12 y.o.), and Maggie (17 y.o), the shepherd mix “Dingo” who touched 1,000 lives, crossed the rainbow bridge in our backyard. Duke has never known life without his beloved Maggie, and they were truly best friends. These dogs have moved across the country, been “therapy” to humans in darkest of times, and always been the most loyal of any animal or human I’ve ever known.
Several years ago, Duke had to go on incredible amounts of medication to be able to sustain his ability to get around, as he had musculoskeletal issues that were making his life difficult and painful. Despite his obvious change in his quality of life, his eyes and ears remained perky and his determination remained steadfast, because he had to a “job” to do— to remain with us and his best friend, Maggie. He was a trooper. He could scarcely get his entire back end off the floor when he had to get up, but he was determined. You could feel it in his energy. When Maggie got sick, Duke knew and he would sometimes howl with anxiety if she were upstairs, because he couldn’t see her. As Maggie’s days came to a close, we reminisced about the dog with many lives, as she was absolutely the most stubborn, resilient dog I have ever seen. She recovered from a stroke, managed to dodge traffic more than once on her “walkabouts” and let absolutely nothing get her down in life. She was known as “Houdini” more than once, as she could figure out any system designed to keep her from “breaking out,” and we would frequently get calls at work… “Um, I think I have your dog, Maggie. She’s been in my cubicle all day at work today…she’s great!” I have always said I would write a book from Maggie’s perspective. She had many experiences in her 17 years. So, obviously, when her time came, and she went from the usual, resilient old girl to so tired she didn’t want to bother getting up, we knew it was time. Even more interesting, Duke knew too, and his entire demeanor changed from “hanging in there with my pack” to a very tired dog who was ready to cross the rainbow bridge with his best friend. It was absolutely gut wrenching and obvious. I needed an absolute sign and peace about making such a huge decision, and Duke gave me the signs I needed. They were clear. My two best friends were ready to go, together.
We did not know a vet personally who made house calls, so we found Caring Pathways online. To be honest, everything was a blur at that point. I know I read some reviews, and I remember making the phone call to set it up, and scarcely remember speaking to a kind person on the other end who was gentle and kind, as I cried and choked up the words I didn’t want to say. There was an availability that day, and I chose the time slot.
Dr. Lori Lowery pulled up in the driveway, and as she parked her SUV and opened her door to greet me, she said gently, “I am so sorry.” She was absolutely the gentlest soul, with the perfect temperament and character for such a difficult job. She took time to meet each person who was here (our “pack” – family members), write down their names and of course, took time to explain every single step, what to expect, etc. She rushed absolutely nothing and left the timing of everything to us. She handed me a colorful, small book entitled “When Your Pet Dies: A Guide to Mourning, Remembering and Healing Compassionate support and practical suggestions to help you understand your grief and begin to heal.” Although completely in a mental warp at this point, I was still able to appreciate the fact that she handed me something that showed compassion for the humans about to lose precious members of their pack. (The book, so far, has been helpful. I am still struggling to read more than a sentence or two without breaking down in profound, sad sobs.)
Our two best friends laid side by side in the soft grass, under the shade of an umbrella, tired and completely submissive to their next journey together. Their peace is the ONLY thing that gave me peace. They could not have made things clearer to us and they appeared grateful, and more than ready to pass over the rainbow bridge, as if they were looking right at it, together.
Being the only nurse in the group, I know that I noticed things the other humans were not focused on. When Lori (she insisted on being called Lori) was administering their injections, she was good to tell us that sometimes finding a vein on a geriatric dog is difficult…and it was. She changed needles when she had to move to another area (Unnecessary medically, but a step she did to ensure dignity and kindness, for the sake of the humans in the pack…not the dogs, who have no clue what’s happening because they are sedated and unaware). She also tenderly put a bandage on their legs after injecting their veins (once again, not really medically necessary), but as a way of showing dignity and kindness (so we humans aren’t upset by any bleeding, etc). I was very moved by her acts of dignity for our sweet dogs. Oftentimes, it is the small things others do that make an experience better. Before we began any injections, Lori put two clean towels that were folded under our dogs’ heads, and just made them super comfy. That little touch meant a lot. After our dogs peacefully passed, she swaddled my dogs in clean, nice blankets, just like you would a baby. They looked incredibly peaceful and beautiful. I really appreciate that act of dignity and kindness as well. My husband carried “his girl” (Maggie) to the SUV, and we had our big, sweet giant of a boy swaddled on a stretcher, that was carried to the SUV as well. They were laid gently in the vehicle, swaddled and beautiful. Once again, it’s the little things—the vehicle was in pristine condition, clean, and ready to receive our sweet best friends. Something about having them leave in a nice, clean, comfortable vehicle made things even easier for me.
Three days after they were euthanized, we received a sympathy card in the mail that had a significant handwritten greeting from Lori in it. In the card was also a “Pet Lover’s Code” card that lists “10 Inalienable Rights After the Death of a Special Companion Animal” (Very good for healing and for validating one’s feelings in this journey). We also got a colorful Rainbow Bridge Poem, which I utterly cannot get through at this point without crying my eyeballs out; it’s beautiful. Lastly, a little card was enclosed that said, “In Honor and Memory of Duke and Maggie …we have sent a donation to Morris Foundation for Animals…..to help fight for the betterment of the health of our beloved pets.” How wonderful. We really appreciated that unexpected kindness.
So, I cannot say enough wonderful things about this organization; everything from my initial phone call, until the card we received in the mail, was done in a dignified and compassionate manner. Our beloved Duke and Maggie, absolute best of friends, had a beautiful and peaceful transition, resting in the soft grass of their favorite, comfy spots. Inseparable in life and death, we were able to fulfill their desires to leave together in a beautiful way.
I also appreciate the way Caring Pathways cares for the humans involved as much as they do the animals. Thank you for taking the time to find resources in our transition and adjustment to life without our beloved companions.
What a wonderful, wonderful organization.
Sending them love,
Pam, Doug, Chelsea, John & Parker